For assistance, police and lawyers are the least desired by female victims of sexual violence
During the last 2-3 months, one has seen complaints related to sexual harassment surfacing on social media as part of the #MeToo campaign. Many people have questioned why the victims were so late to reveal the harassments they faced in the past. Sceptics have also asked why the victims of sexual harassment did not seek either legal or police help.
If you have similar doubts in mind, then you should read carefully the results of the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4) pertaining to violence that women face.
The latest available data of NFHS-4 indicates that only 14.4 percent of women in the age cohort 15-49 years, who experienced physical or sexual violence, have sought help, and 75.9 percent have neither sought help nor told anyone about the violence they experienced. Although 9.8 percent of victims at the national-level told someone about the physical or sexual violence they experienced, they did not ask for any help. The percentage of women who sought assistance after facing violence was nearly 24 percent in 2005-06, according to NFHS-3. It means that a large chunk of offenders go scot-free after committing those crimes.
It could be observed from table-1 that when the perpetrator of physical or sexual violence is missing, in such cases 27.5 percent of female victims aged 15-49 years sought help. However, when their own family member/s commited such a crime, in those cases merely 11.9 percent of female victims sought aid.
When the perpetrator of physical or sexual violence is the previous husband, roughly a quarter of female victims (viz. 26.4 percent) sought help. However, when the present husband committed any physical or sexual violence, only 12.3 percent female victims asked for assistance. It clearly shows that if the perpetrator of physical or sexual violence is living with the victim, in those cases the latter are less likely to seek help.
Table 1: Percent distribution of women age 15-49 who have ever experienced physical or sexual violence by whether they have told anyone about the violence and whether they ever sought help from any source to end the violence according to type of violence and background characteristics, India 2015-16
Source: NFHS-4, please click here to access
Police and legal help
It could be seen from chart-1 that female victims aged 15-49 years, who experienced physical and /or sexual violence, mostly seek help of own family (64.9 percent), followed by husband’s family (28.3 percent), friend (15.7 percent) and neighbour (9.7 percent). Only 3.5 percent and 1.0 percent of female victims have sought help of police and lawyers, respectively. Nearly 1.6 percent of female victims, who faced physical and /or sexual violence, have sought assistance of a religious leader.
In case of solely sexual violence, 0.9 percent of female victims took help of police and 0.5 percent sought assistance of lawyers in 2015-16. Thus, one could infer that only a tiny fraction of victims of sexual violence approach the police and lawyers. It may be because of lack of trust in those institutions.
It may be noted by the readers that in NFHS-4, information was obtained from never-married women on their experience of violence committed by anyone and from ever-married women on their experience of violence committed by their current and former husbands and by others. All women (married and unmarried) were asked about the experience of sexual violence committed by anyone (other than a current or most recent husband) by asking if at any time in their life, as a child or as an adult, they were forced in any way to have sexual intercourse or to perform any other sexual acts when they did not want to do.
Perpetrators of sexual violence
Among ever-married women aged 15-49 years, who experienced sexual violence, 83.1 percent have reported their current husband and 9.3 percent have reported a former husband as offenders. Among the never-married women, who faced sexual violence, the most common perpetrators are "other" relatives (27.3 percent), followed by a current or former boyfriend (17.8 percent), their own friend or acquaintance (16.8 percent), and a family friend (11.4 percent). Never-married women have also reported sexual violence by strangers (8.9 percent) and teachers (3.4 percent). Please check table-2 for details.
Table 2: Among women age 15-49 who have experienced sexual violence, percentage who report specific persons committing sexual violence according to current marital status and age at first experience of sexual violence, India 2015-16
Note: na = Not applicable
* Includes women who report having ever experienced sexual violence committed only by their current husband if currently married or most recent husband if widowed, divorced, separated, or deserted. For these women, the age at first experience of sexual violence is not known.
Source: NFHS-4, please click here to access
Although 5.5 percent of women in 2015-16 reported having experienced sexual violence (by anyone as a child or as an adult) ever in their lifetime, that figure was close to 9 percent in 2005-06.
The NFHS-4 data shows that women’s experience of sexual violence increases with women’s age, from 2.5 percent among women aged 15-19 years to around 7 percent among women aged 30-49 years.
One gets from NFHS-4 that the experience of sexual violence falls sharply with schooling from 8.4 percent among women with no schooling to 3.0 percent among women with 12 or more years of schooling. Similarly, women’s experience of sexual violence declines with wealth from 9.0 percent among women in the lowest wealth quintile to 3.2 percent among women in the highest wealth quintile.
Widowed, divorced, separated, or deserted women (12.1 percent) are far more likely than never married women (1.6 percent), currently married women (6.4 percent) or married but gauna not performed women (1.6 percent) to report having experienced sexual violence.
Report of National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16), released in December, 2017, International Institute for Population Sciences, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, please click here to access
Image Courtesy: Himanshu Joshi